We eat a bowl of cereal or breakfast sandwich without even thinking about it. If stomach pain or bloating is present after eating a certain food, it is easy to think it just did not agree with your stomach. Maybe it is more than that. According to the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center, it is estimated that one in 133 people have Celiac disease. This disease impacts three million Americans and most do not even realize they are suffering from it. They continue eating gluten with no idea what it is doing to their gut. So, what is the gut like while consuming gluten for someone who should not be consuming it?
First, What Is It?
If this is the first time you are hearing about Celiac disease, you may wonder what it even is. Gluten is a protein that is found in wheat, barley, rye and oats. It is made up of glutenin and gliadin. Gluten is what gives food a fluffy and airy texture. Not only is it in food, but it is also in cosmetics, body wash, shampoo, soaps and other products. Wheat is nothing like what it used to be for our grandparents. It is processed and hybridized. Celiac disease never used to be as common as it is now. There is an increase in diagnosis for this disease. It can significantly impact your gut and the rest of your body if consumed when you have Celiac disease or even an intolerance to gluten.
The Impact on Your Gut
It does not matter if you eat a small piece of toast or a full sandwich on organic bread. The effects from the gluten will be the same. Once the food reaches the intestines, an enzyme produced in the intestinal wall, tissue transglutaminase (tTG), will break down the gluten into protein building blocks, glutenin and gliadin.
As the proteins are making their way through the digestive system, the immune system will see them as harmful substances. For those who do not have any issues with gluten, those proteins will be absorbed. For those who are sensitive to gluten, the gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT) will identify gliadin as a dangerous substance and will produce antibodies to attack it. For those with Celiac disease, the antibodies do not just attack the gliadin, they will also attack the tTG along with it, which originally broke the gluten down into two parts.
The tTG enzyme has multiple jobs, along with holding together the microvilli within the gut. The body will collect the nutrients by absorbing them through the walls in the intestines. Imagine soaking up a gallon of water with just a paper towel instead of a bath towel. The microvilli, which appears as hairy fingers, are located in the intestines and increase the surface area, as well as absorb nutrients.
When antibodies in the body are produced to defend itself against the gliadin attacking your tTG, the microvilli will erode and atrophy, which will decrease the ability to absorb any nutrients and will allow the walls of the intestines to become leaky. This will result in digestive issues such as anemia and iron deficiency, constipation, bloating, weight loss, fat malabsorption and malnutrition, and osteoporosis.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that must be taken seriously because, if left untreated, it can lead to several issues.
Cancer – If a gluten-free diet is not followed completely, there is a higher risk for developing several types of cancer, including small bowel cancer and intestinal lymphoma.
Lactose Intolerance – Damage to the small intestine can lead to diarrhea and abdominal pain following consumption of dairy products, even if they do not have gluten.
Miscarriage and Infertility – Reproductive issues can occur because of the malabsorption of Vitamin D and calcium.
Loss of Bone Density and Calcium – Malabsorption of Vitamin D and calcium can lead to osteoporosis.
Malnutrition – By consuming even the smallest piece of gluten, there will be damage to the small intestine, which means it will not be able to absorb enough nutrients. Malnutrition can lead to weight loss and anemia. In children, malnutrition can not only lead to weight loss and anemia, but also delayed development and stunted growth.
Gluten is harsh on your body when you have an intolerance or full-blown allergy to it. However, by following a strict gluten-free diet, you can lower your chances of the above conditions.